Sam Smith's NBA mailbag

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Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry. All have a low-post presence, and their teams stink! You and all the "experts" keep talking about the Bulls needing that presence. We had Curry, and guess what! We've gone further in the playoffs without him. After we get that post presence, next you'll say we need a big who can hit that midrange jumper to free up the post guy. Or we'll trade our outside threat for the post guy, and then you'll say we need someone to hit the outside shot. Come on, Sam, give us some realistic trade scenarios. Stop it with the "post presence" stuff! I'm writing you this message and I've worked up more sweat than Tyrus has in the last two weeks! --Victor Devaldivielso, Aurora

That's the passion the Bulls need. I'm guessing you're short and fed up. I'm still for Gasol, though I hear the Grizzlies have talked with a number of teams. The hangup with the Bulls appears to be the Grizzlies' interest in Andres Nocioni. I'm not fully sure why, probably less for Nocioni's ability than for what he does for them. But with his base-year status, it may be too difficult to find the right pieces for a deal. I didn't want Randolph or Curry but believe the Bulls could use someone on the inside to at least change the pace of the jump-shooting game. Not to spend all game throwing it in and standing around, but for a change of pace in the game. When you were a kid, didn't they always pick the big guy first in the playground games? There's a reason.

Since Kobe loves Luol so much, how about Deng and Wallace for Bynum, Radmanovic and Kwame's expiring contract? Wouldn't that appease Kobe, make them instantly more playoff-ready and give the Bulls one hell of a young group of bigs to go with their collection of littles? Which side wouldn't do this? --Ashley, Chicago

Lakers, Lakers, Lakers. Kobe doesn't love Luol so much. He seemed to hate the Lakers more. Actually, he hated Bynum last spring and summer. But what's happened is the Lakers have become one of the great stories of the NBA this season. Their defense is much better, their bench is much deeper and they are big up front. And Kwame Brown got hurt, which was a huge break. They had to play Bynum, and he's showing he could be an elite center. Kobe isn't going anywhere and never was. He hates to admit it, but he's better off, and the talk is the Lakers are looking hard to move Kwame's expiring contract for another piece and make a serious championship run.

I'm not a Bulls fan, but I think you might remind your readers what a crap-shoot player evaluation can be. Even the best make mistakes. Jerry West traded Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell for Glen Rice, and Sam Perkins for Benoit Benjamin. Joe Dumars took Darko over Carmelo Anthony. It's not as easy as it appears in hindsight. Having said that, I never understood signing Ben Wallace to a long, expensive contract. He was a glorified role player? What was the thinking? --AJ, Providence

It's hard to find people identifying themselves as Bulls fans this season. I know John Paxson's dad has written me this same point. Just kidding, though he does write me on occasion, as he once played in the NBA. You are right. It is tough, and the best make huge mistakes. What they do is don't dwell on them, get rid of them and move forward.

My guess is the Bulls would like to do that with Wallace, though the thinking made sense at the time. As much as you'd like to have Tyson Chandler now, assuming you were a Bulls fan, he would have been even more of a quivering wreck under Skiles last season and probably would have had a nervous breakdown by now. They committed themselves to Skiles and his style, and Chandler couldn't cut it. They had cap money to spend for one summer. The alternatives were Joel Przybilla and Nazr Mohammed, as they were looking for size.

Here was the chance to take a starter from their biggest rival and add veteran, championship experience. It made a lot of sense, and even national observers called the Bulls the winners of that summer. Who knew Wallace had sent in his retirement papers?

If the best move for the Bulls was to acquire Pau Gasol, which price would the Grizzlies ask? If you were Memphis' GM, what would you ask for in return? --Nicolas, Switzerland

The assumption is the Bulls won't include Deng, whom they wouldn't put in a deal last year. Memphis probably wouldn't want Hinrich, because they have point guards. And they might not want Gordon, because he's up for a contract and they'd have to pay him. So I'd probably ask for some combination of Noah, whom they liked in the draft before taking Conley, Sefolosha, Duhon, Nocioni and a No. 1 pick, though I'm not sure it's doable. If I were Memphis, I'd probably want them to take a bad contract off my hands, which make it even harder to match salaries.

I like the way Aaron Gray gives the Bulls a new dimension on offense, but why is it that no one comments on how often he gets beat by his man back on defense? I have seen multiple plays this season where after taking a shot, he jogs back while his man sprints down, forcing a switch and an open shot for another player or a layup for his man. Isn't this the same type of thing the coaches complain publicly about with Tyrus Thomas? Why does Gray get off the hook for his defensive lapses and lack of conditioning? --Stephen Noh, Wilmette

Because he is sprinting. That's the problem with Gray. The fastest he runs, and he does really try, looks like everyone else's jog. He's in shape. Thomas could do it, but he just doesn't always choose to. That's what upsets coaches.

What happened to Ben Gordon's knack for hitting game-winning shots? It's what made him a (quasi) star his rookie year. It seems as a cerebral player he has lost his edge, even before his contract issues. --Dan Smilow, Tempe, Ariz.

The first time, you catch people by surprise. After that, unless they're stupid, they pay attention and adjust. Teams know it's more difficult for Ben when he has to put the ball on the floor or make a move. He's really better suited to play like Richard Hamilton coming off screens and rising quickly, though he's about 6 inches shorter. It was amazing he hit so many as a rookie. He shouldn't be judged against that. It's usually better to be good later than sooner. Ben is finding that out.

The Bulls need a big man (duh), but we are not going to get a Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan anytime soon. So instead of overpaying for a Pau Gasol, who has really never proven himself in the playoffs, why don't they go after a younger big man whose trade value is at its lowest point right now? Al Horford is still a rookie, but I really see him being a big-time talent. Couldn't a package of Tyrus Thomas and Ben Gordon be put together with a couple of minor pieces to grab him? --Drew Williams, Richton Park

Maybe Shelden Williams. I know it's hard to believe, but few teams are dedicated to improving the Bulls, as unfair as that seems. Horford is a power forward for the next decade for Atlanta. Plus they're not about to give up cheap players who are good. They'd be glad to deal Speedy Claxton. Young big guys or big guys of any kind are difficult to come by. Why you may be able to get someone like Gasol is for other than basketball issues, like the dire financial situation with Memphis. Or if you are just dumb like Minnesota and apparently owe something to your former team.

I was wondering if we gave up Kirk, Gordon and Tyrus for Gilbert Arenas. Arenas is a star, and I heard rumors he wants out. Arenas, Sefolosha and Deng. Then we can go for a big man in free agency next year. That is a pretty good core to build around. --David, Trevor, Wis.

Arenas is an interesting figure, if a bit goofy. OK, a lot goofy. He can opt out, but now with him saying he may not even play again this season, it would seem the Wizards have no alternative but to re-sign him, given his local popularity. Yes, he is a star, sort of, but he's certainly erratic, eccentric, an indifferent defender and a wild shooter. Otherwise, I love the guy. First-team all-interview, for sure. Look, guys like Jordan were great not only because they could score but defended, passed the ball, made plays. I don't see much of that from Gilbert, just enhancing his stats. Washington has played very well without Arenas, so it might be tempted to make a deal, no matter how unpopular locally and risky. But it would likely be for big guys and/or All-Stars, none of whom the Bulls have.

How about a deal for Al Harrington? He can score in the post, and Don Nelson isn't exactly enamored of big men. --Don Priola, Albuquerque

He's not big. The Bulls once coveted Harrington, and it's how they got Deng. They bought the No. 7 overall pick from Phoenix to trade to Indiana for Harrington. The Pacers then asked for No. 3, the deal fell apart and the Bulls used both picks instead. I think they ended up better off.

Do you think Boylan will be hired as permanent coach, or are we better off getting Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown, Hubie Brown or Doug Collins? --Abram, Phoenix

Boylan has a chance, but, of course, it depends on the season and playoffs, as I believe they'll be there. I don't see any of the others, as they're all the tough-guy, demanding types, which is too close to Skiles.

How about this trade: Thomas, Noah and Thabo to Sacramento for Ron Artest. Then Gordon, Hinrich, Smith and the No. 1 pick (probably lottery) to the Clippers for Brand and Maggette. If it doesn't work, you can always trade Sam Smith for future considerations. --Rafael, Lima, Peru

Since there's virtually no chance, my guess is it becomes me for a box of used socks.

Maybe it's just me, but it looks like the Bulls have most of the pieces for a championship ballclub in the NBA. I believe that if the Bulls could get T-Mac in a Ben Gordon and Ben Wallace trade that the Bulls could win now. When T-Mac is healthy he can lead a team, and he is a go-to player. The team then would have Kirk, T-Mac, Luol, Andres and Aaron Gray. I know there is no way to compare, but the team would look a little bit like Michael's Bulls. Only without Michael. I think all they need is a go-to guard who can take over games. What do you think? Why are people saying the Bulls need a big man then? Why can't they just draft or get a great guard? --Matt, Aledo, Ill.

Well, he was the best guard. Also, McGrady never has been healthy. One of the Pistons was reported to have called McGrady "Half man, half a season." He's the Western Conference's Larry Hughes. He breaks down; that's just part of the deal with him. Sorry, but McGrady, Hinrich, Deng, Noce and Gray isn't quite Jordan, Paxson, Pippen, Grant and Cartwright. Nice try, though. The Bulls appreciate your optimism.

I was appalled at Boylan's play-calling at the end of the Orlando game. They kept having Wallace run pick-and-rolls with Gordon. Gordon is small and not a good passer, and Wallace is no threat rolling down the lane, so all they accomplished was leaving Gordan double-teamed by one of the league's biggest and best defenders. I was surprised to see a player raving about Boylan's X's-and-O's skills in the paper when Boylan had just killed their chances for a big win with some very bad play-calling. --Ron Fisher, Sugar Grove, Ill.

I see it as more than one game. Boylan shouldn't have to be doing it, but he's trying to win back Wallace. Yes, $15 million a year should be enough, but Wallace seems to have gotten his feelings hurt, and Boylan is putting Ben out late in games and involving him in offensive plays to try to wake him up. It may pay off in the long run. It's too bad he has to do it that way. Larry Brown got the most out of Wallace by always drawing up a few plays for Wallace. He couldn't complete them, but he liked to be involved. Flip Saunders told Ben to get out of the way since he couldn't shoot, dribble, etc. If Boylan pulls it off, he may get to keep the job.

Noah seems to be the favorite big guy off the bench in the Boylan era. So what is Paxson going to do with Tyrus Thomas? It makes sense for him to be used in a trade, but can any GM face the pressure of letting go of his No. 1 pick? --Mike Lojkovic, Monterey, Calif.

As you can see, it changes game to game. I don't believe after all that's happened that Paxson worries about that anymore. I believe he'll trade anyone if he gets the right deal. Right now, Thomas' value is down, and they'll probably keep him awhile or include him in a multiplayer deal if there is one.

What's your gut on Boylan? Does he have the experience and the team to make a run this year? If not, will the Bulls concentrate on improving the team first before spending a lot on a coach, or will they bring in someone with a reputation and price tag to match under the assumption that the talent is already in place? --Steve, Denver

I think Boylan is a solid guy. He asks me about my golf sweaters, which I consider the height of sophistication. I don't believe they have anyone in mind now. I think they'll look to build a team a certain way and then either keep Boylan or get a coach and tell him to do the job. I think they tried to accommodate Skiles too much. It worked for a while, but they may feel they let go of or passed on players who could help in the future.

Glad to see the venerable Ask Sam back on the site. It was no fun bouncing wacky trade proposals off my family and friends. How about Chris Duhon and Ben Wallace to Miami for Shaq? Miami gets a point guard and some defense in the middle. The Bulls get a guy who can draw the defense in a bit and give the shooters some room. Provided Shaq heals soon, which team would be the first to veto the trade? --Geoff, Chicago

I came back for questions like this. And stop calling me vulnerable. Shaq is the 800-pound gorilla in the room for a lot of reasons. One is he appears to play like he's 800 pounds. And the Heat cannot say it wishes he were gone. He has two years left on his deal, and the latest thinking is he'll stay around because he's getting divorced and will give up quite a bit of money in that. He's had a great, Hall of Fame career. But he's past his time, especially as the game speeds up. It's sad to see him being abused on the court as he is. The Heat is a mess with and without him. It's not like teams are feeling bad for Pat Riley, but no one wants his problem.

I was wondering what ever happened to playing Deng at shooting guard. I think it might be a good fit. They could bring in Noce, or even Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah (granted, the last two are a stretch) into the starting lineup and get a little bit bigger. --Dan, Grand Rapids, Mich.

It was talked about in preseason, and Skiles never embraced it. It was one of many reasons he's gone. I believe once the Bulls right themselves, perhaps get back to .500, Boylan will begin taking a look at things like that.

It seems frosty between Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrick on the floor. Is this really the case? --Kim, Iowa

I don't think so. Ben always looks like that. The rumor was he and Deng didn't hit it off, but Ben mostly goes his own way with his own people and works awfully hard and is in the gym a lot shooting. I know, I know, then how could he be so bad to start the season? I don't know, but he does work at it.

Since Boylan has taken over, turnovers seem to have drastically fallen. Nothing kills a team like turnovers. So why are they down? Motivation? Coaching? Changed offensive sets? Is it temporary or not? --Bob, Norfolk, Va.

I'm told he's having more milk-and-cookies breaks in practice. I think he's simplified things some, especially with the fast break, and changed some lines the big men run from end to end, when they do, as Skiles would note. Though it would seem more that the players are more alert and responding now that they've been put on notice. There's always a honeymoon period with a new coach. Let's see after a dozen or so games.

Any truth to the rumor I'm hearing that Skiles was fired after telling Paxson he could not win with this group of players? If true, it was typical Skiles, brutally honest, sometimes to his detriment. True or not, Paxson must realize there are some on this team who need to go and that this team still is lacking in enough talent to be really good. --Eric Harrell, Crownsville, Md.

I think it was something like that. There was more to it, of course, but in a sentence, the coach and general manager disagreed. Each felt the other needed to do a better job. As I've said, Skiles is like Larry Brown or Doug Collins. Brown tended to fix your mess and wonder how he had done it with whom he had. When he couldn't change the roster, he'd be out. Skiles seems to see it much the same way, though it's not like many coaches have long tenures anywhere. If someone can make progress, he's done well.

I have to say over the last four games, I've been impressed with this team. Even though I liked Skiles, I think it was time for him to be cut loose, especially with his style of doing a five-man substitution and not getting the younger guys like Sefolosha the experience they need. Do you believe the rotation will open up to see Sefolosha start at shooting guard? --Bryce T. Englin, Yokota AFB, Japan

Sefolosha, by all internal accounts, was a quivering mess under Skiles. I think they're giving him time to decompress and then perhaps another shot, though starting might be too much for this season unless he truly impresses. Going into the season they hoped he'd be that big guard at times to send Gordon to the bench. I think there's again that hope.

Whoa, Samuel. Heretofore you seemed a little too quick to dismiss the quick release or trade or whatever of J.R. Smith, and you seemed to say that "the Bulls" decided that Tyson Chandler didn't fit. Now you write that "the Bulls, in fact, were burned a little too much trying to accommodate Skiles' coaching style, having let J.R. Smith and Tim Thomas go for nothing and agreeing to deal Tyson Chandler." Are you writing revisionist history? --Richard Lachmann, Honolulu

They say journalism is history in a hurry. I did agree with some of the moves because I believed players like Smith wouldn't work here and would cause more problems than he's worth, and he's been no prize in Denver. I liked Chandler, but they'd recently re-upped with Skiles, and the Bulls were trending up. Chandler wasn't, and the Ben Wallace signing seemed to address the Chandler deal with the kind of veteran they didn't have. I've written that the Bulls believed they tried to accommodate Skiles too much, perhaps slanted the team too much that way and shouldn't do that for any coach because any coach is generally short term. I would not have kept Smith and didn't believe Chandler could play here at a time it appeared Skiles would be here two to three more years.

Who are the likely candidates to replace Skiles next season (Boylan excluded)? --Rahul Chatterjee, Los Angeles

I can't even guess now.

It seems to me that the biggest problem the Bulls have is the decline in Hinrich's game. Beyond the turnovers and foul problems, you have a guy who is no longer a viable scoring option. Is there an explanation for his decline, and do you get a sense of the coaches trying to do something about it? --Alex, Boston

No one is really sure. He's not a pure point guard, so Boylan has made the adjustment to use Duhon that way more, though as we can see Duhon's shooting remains a big issue. Until the Bulls get a true point guard, Hinrich is the best they have, and I'd stick with him. Plus I think his shooting will improve and, his defense remains good.

Who will be the "big trouts" in the free-agent pool? --Rui Teodoro, Alpiarça, Portugal

Not sure the Bulls can fish in that pond. The biggest ones are the players with opt-outs, and most teams won't take them. These include Brand, Arenas, Marion, Iverson, Baron Davis and Jermaine O'Neal. All could re-sign with their own teams. Corey Maggette and Ron Artest could leave. The unrestricted free agent class is limited, led by Antawn Jamison.

Why don't the Bulls play with an 11-man rotation? They have the deepest team in the league. Thomas, Sefolosha, Griffin and Gray should be playing, not riding the bench. They've been tired down the stretch recently, so why not go to the bench early and often, with Noah, Tyrus, Thabo and Griffin in addition to Nocioni and Gordon? --Ethan, Philadelphia

I can see Boylan trying to win over the veterans first. There aren't many coaches who are facile enough to use a deep bench. It's usually veterans like Phil Jackson and Hubie Brown. I thought that would be an advantage for the Bulls this season, being able to overwhelm teams with depth. But the coaches lost confidence in the young guys, and it will take time to get that back.

Will the Celtics break the Bulls' single-season wins total? --Jim Harlan, Chicago

No, which is the same answer I gave about this time in 1996 when the question was raised about the Bulls winning 70 games. But the Celtics have been amazingly successful. They're undefeated against the West, and after the relatively soft opening schedule, they swept the four games, including a Lakers-Jazz back-to-back. That's impressive. Ask me again in March.

Mickael Pietrus wants out. Why don't the Bulls give up Duhon for Pietrus, as the Bulls need a bigger 2 guard and the Warriors need a backup point guard? --Josh Roels, Glenwood, Ill.

The Bulls actually thought about drafting Pietrus when they took Hinrich. He likes to shoot a little too much. The problem is you need his permission for a trade in his fifth season because he has to yield his Bird rights and has said he'd only give it if guaranteed a starter's job and 35 minutes. I doubt the Bulls would do that.

I am going to go out on a limb here, but I watch every team play on NBA League Pass every night. And right now, I would easily say the Bulls are one of the worst teams in the NBA. I am tired of people making excuses. We are horrible, no offense, a so-so "we try really hard but don't get the job done" defense, and we were so enamored of the team last year, we passed up any good trades. Everyone's stock is down, and Deng just got hurt. Please be sensible and agree with me that not only are we going to miss the playoffs, but we will have a lottery pick come draft day. --Jonathan McGraw, Chicago

You are watching too much NBA and not sleeping enough. I think the Bulls will get back in the middle of the race for the fourth through seventh playoff spots.

What are the chances of Kobe and the Lakers barging into the top four of the Western Conference playoff seeds? Or if they fall, who is the best matchup? --Larry Ngo, Manila

The Lakers look like a good bet for No. 4 or 5 now, though I think they'd love another crack at a small Phoenix team now that the Lakers are bigger and have beaten the Suns twice already.

I understand Jim Boylan is trying to get the Bulls back into the playoff picture, and he is also tying to win himself a long-term deal. But isn't he hurting himself and the Bulls long term? First off, if he does not get Thomas some real minutes, I think he will lose Thomas forever. And if he keeps playing Joe Smith this many minutes, he may end up on the injured list in the near future. Is this all about winning games, or is this about showcasing some of their players for trades? --Jose, Chicago

Winning first. Remember, Boylan also wants the job, and the best way to get it is to win. I know Paxson talked about developing players, but not if the cost is losing. Smith actually complained quietly that Skiles didn't play him enough. So we'll see. Players recover. When Thomas plays and if he produces, he'll be fine, and he's only in his second season.

What do you think happens with Gordon? A. Is traded before deadline? B. Re-signs to a five-year, $58 million contract? C. Takes a one-year tender? D. Leaves and the Bulls get nothing? I like Gordon, but I think he'll ask for too much money. --Carlie Armstrong, Harbor Springs

He remains the tough one. I think come summer they'll look to include him in a deal. But he remains their best scorer, and you'd better get scoring back if you do that.

Scottie Pippen (a.k.a. "No Tippin' Pippen") is remembered as one of the best basketball players in Bulls history, and one of the biggest jerks. Even implying that he would be a viable candidate to lead the Bulls, or any franchise, is silly. He is the antithesis of a leader. I just don't understand how you could even contemplate backing the idea of him as a head coach, especially of a group of emotionally fragile players like we have in Chicago. Utter silliness. --Jordan Marsh, Chicago

Would you feel that way if your name were Pippen Marsh?

Pippen has earned a shot. What about Cliff Ray as assistant? Pete Myers as defensive expert? Would these guys fit with Pippen? Let's get the lobbying for Pip going! --Stu Scudder, Lake Forest

It's something I threw out there, and it's generated a lot of comment, both pro and con. I don't think Pippen is ready because I do believe you have to do some coaching to be a coach, even if you have a feel for the game as good as he did. But teams could think a bit more out of the box on candidates instead of recycling so many of the same old names.

After watching fairly impressive YouTube footage of Scottie Pippen playing in Finland, I must ask: Would Pippen still be an upgrade over Chris Duhon, and would Paxson ever consider it? --Farhan, Rio Rancho, N.M.

Been there, paid for that, and I think they regret it as it didn't work four years ago.

What are the chances that the Bulls bring back Marcus Fizer to try to solve our low-post scoring woes? I know he was injury-prone, but I didn't think the Bulls gave Fizer's flower enough chance to bloom. --Hansel, Bergen-Belsen, Germany

Sure they did. But there was fertilizer everywhere he went.

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